BikeBandit Guest Blogger Series: Klim Latitude Pant and Jacket Review

Our bodies were not meant for motorcycling. Straddling an engine and catapulting ourselves across time and space can result in exposure to extreme cold and heat. Sometimes, even bolting ourselves and our bikes back together with a bit of metal. We need the best protection we can get when exposed on a motorcycle for days, weeks or even months at a time.

Enter Klim, experts at engineering an armored second skin for sled-heads, dirt and ADV riders. They know a thing or two about protecting us from the elements and have put their graduate degree at the school of hard knocks into something for sport-touring and touring riders: the Klim Latitude.

I welcomed the Klim Latitude as an addition to my gear stash, since I will admit to anyone that I am a bit of a gear junkie. My garage has racks of skis and my closet is full of motorcycle gear to meet the ever changing weather conditions here in the pacific northwest. To earn its spot in my closet though, I did a comprehensive breakdown including a 4 day, 1600 mile test ride to the Klim offices in Rigby, Idaho to meet with Klim’s Brand Training Manager, Dustin Pancheri.

latitude review - Ted Edwards
The Latitude jacket and pant fit my 6’2” frame perfectly. Here, I am wearing the jacket in a large and the pants in a 34 tall.

The Latitude jacket and pant main body are made from 2-layer Gore-Tex. In case you haven’t heard, Gore-Tex is the best stuff on the planet for keeping you warm and dry when Mother Nature wants to rain on your parade. I have a Gore-Tex jacket for ski patrol and can give you countless stories about how that material has made the difference between working comfortably in a hostile environment or suffering a miserable shivering existence.

To have Gore-Tex in a motorcycle jacket and pant, where chilly and wet weather can dull your reaction time, just might make the difference between a narrow escape versus picking yourself up from the ditch.

If you have been cold and miserable on a bike, you know what I am talking about.

Klim uses Gore-Tex in their snowmobile gear as well, so they are experts at waterproof construction practices. In fact, in my visit to the factory, I saw the apparatus they use to test the waterproofness of their gear. It is a pressure tester.

You read that right. They put the fabric beneath a ring similar to the wooden hoops my mom once used for needlepoint. That ring then presses the fabric onto a plate with holes drilled for the flow of pressurized water. Then, as the fabric is held down with the ring onto the pressure plate, water is forced up through the holes in the plate. You can then look down onto the fabric and see if bubbles form. If you are wearing the Latitude jacket and pant in an environment where water pressure is that severe, then you are so far underwater that your biggest worry should be fishing your motorcycle out from the Mariana Trench. Then explaining to your insurance company how it got there.

If the fabric can withstand that kind of water pressure, then 50 caliber raindrops are a laugh.

latitude review - Ted Edwards
The reflectivity of the Latitude jacket and pant really stand out. There is plenty of stretch in the shoulders for a comfortable reach to the bars.

To take their total protection to an even higher level, Klim lined the elbows and forearms of the jacket with goat leather. They also lined inside of the thighs and knees with goat leather where they contact the bike along with a small trim of goat leather on the shoulders and the knees beneath the heavy duty 840D Cordura. In my conversations with Dustin, he reported that Klim studies how many stitches per inch they can put into the leather to get maximum seam integrity to resist tearing without putting so many holes in the leather that it rips upon contact with terra extra-firma like some sort of leather tear away coupon. That my friends, is attention to detail.

And Klim thinks of every detail. According to Dustin, the dye they use for their fabric is engineered to resist fade, so that black jacket will still be black years from now, not a sun faded grey. The zippers on the pants and jacket have rubberized pulls so they are easy to grab with a gloved hand, even when wet. The 3M Scotchlite reflective panels are positioned strategically along major anatomical joints on your frame (collarbone, arm, forearm, shoulder blade, thigh and calf) to make you look like a humanoid form when it reflects headlights, instead of a mail truck or sign post. There is even a vertical zipper along the sides of the belly in case your ride entails you eating a burrito the size of a sleeping bag.

There are two roomy chest pockets on the front and I found that, when devoid of contents, they make excellent chest vents. These two external pockets on each chest combined with the two hand warmer pockets give plenty storage space for touring.

There is also a emergency medical ID pocket on the left forearm with the star symbol (*) to tell first responders where to find your medical information should they need it. If you fill out a form online, Klim mails you your personal I.D. card for free. Nice touch.

Then, behind that pocket is a secret flap (maybe not so secret now since I am telling everybody) that is designed to hide a credit card or stash of cash. But I think that its best use is storage for an extra key for your bike. If you have ever lost the key to your bike, or have it amputated off in your saddlebag then you know how life saving this hidden pocket could be.

As to not over-engineer the basics, there are simple Velcro adjusters on the wrist and adjustment straps on the forearms, ribs and back of the knee to make sure that your armor does not rotate upon impact. I think Klim got the collar height just right, not tall enough to rub up against your Adam’s apple and chafe, but tall enough to eschew Mother Nature’s attempts to ruin your good time. Also, the collar adjusts with a cinch strap, offset to the left so it can be reached with your clutch hand. More attention to detail.

When you open up the inside of the jacket you see what seems to be pretty standard fare at first: four zippered pockets, two on each side.

latitude review - Ted Edwards
The inside of the jacket is comfortable and has plenty of travel oriented storage.

Look closer.

The left chest pocket has a cutout for your headphones. I cannot ride without my music, so a jacket not having a Napoleon pocket is a deal breaker for me.

Then, if you remove the back pad, there is another small, passport sized pocket behind it. With all of this storage, you could play hide and seek with this jacket. It is clearly designed for travel.

The pants have two glove sized hand warmer pockets with an additional zippered thigh pocket on the left hand side.

What surprised me is the coziness of the liners on the jacket and pants. They are as soft as your oldest, comfiest pair of gym shorts your wife keeps begging you to throw away; they are that comfortable. Klim understands this so they gave the liners a Polygiene Odor Control additive which means that after a couple of days or weeks on the road, the garments won’t smell like that old pair of gym shorts your wife is begging you to throw away.

So it is clear that the Latitude will keep you warm, happy and comfortable no matter what your riding conditions. Which makes you wonder how well it performs when temperatures start to climb.

The answer is: fantastic.

This is one of the benefits of having a Gore-Tex shell. The exterior is waterproof and guaranteed to keep you dry, which means that all vents go directly to the body, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Many manufacturers do not have waterproof shells, so they either have a non-removable liner behind the main fabric or include a separate, detachable liner to stop rain before it gets to your skin.

The disadvantage of these two solutions is that the vents are either blocked by the non-removable liner or you have a detachable, garbage bag quality liner that you have to stop and attach to your jacket beneath a freeway under pass while your riding buddies ride by, honking and waving at you in their Klim Latitude. Or if you are me, you forget to pack the stupid liner. Or you just lose it completely.

Also, with either of these waterproofing techniques, the jacket gets completely, soaking, wet. The jacket absorbs water and you now have a wet, heavy jacket to wear for hours on end. You might be dry (maybe) but your jacket is a sloppy mess. This perfectly describes both my current ADV jacket and touring outfit. After a downpour, I gain an additional 10 pounds of retained water, like a soaking wet sleeping bag, and about as comfortable. Couple this with no venting directly to the body and you can see that Klim has the best solution: make the shell waterproof, with water resistant zippers and you can then vent directly to the body.

And boy, does it vent well. There are two vents on the forearms that push air up and over your arms, around your shoulders and down the vertical exhaust vents in the lower back. For fun, I would engage my throttle lock and stick both my arms out to my side like Rose riding on the bow of the Titanic. These forearm flaps then deployed fully and caught serious wind which was not only great for cooling, but made enough wind drag it allowed me to steer the bike with the throttle lock on. Put my right arm out to steer right, left arm out to steer left, both arms out dropped my speed by a couple mph. These are the games you play with idle time while doing hundreds of miles a day through Montana.

There are also two vertical shoulder vents positioned high enough so air can reach them past your windscreen. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the two chest pockets (should they be devoid of contents) can be opened and used as additional vents.

However, my favorite venting feature is the double hold back collar. Each side of the collar can be retained open with simple elastic loops and a hook mounted near your collar bone, unlike most manufacturers that have only one side of a collar to open for venting. The holders are so simple and bulletproof I could hook them back while riding. Why isn’t everyone using this design?

Open up both sides of the collar, unzip the main zipper and you feel like you are wearing a hardcore mesh jacket. I controlled the venting by pinning both collars back and then pulling the main zipper up to my neck for a tad bit of air, or unzipping all the way down for the full on parachute effect. With the zip all the way down and all vents open, I felt like a B-52 deploying full flaps while coming in for a landing. It’s as close as you can come to wearing just a t-shirt.

The pants have not only two huge thigh vents but also exhaust vents on the back of the leg on your hamstring. Again, why isn’t everyone doing this? Open both of them up for the M.C. Hammer pants look and let the good air flow.

Even with all of the time and effort spent on these features, Klim didn’t skimp on the armor, putting D30 armor in the knees, hips, forearms, shoulders and the back. D30 is amazing stuff. This orange goo (yes, they actually call it that) feels like silly putty when you play with it, but when it meets impact, it hardens instantly to dissipate that kinetic energy through the material.

Scientists call it a non-Newtonian fluid. I call it amazing.

It’s so pliable you never notice it’s there. But when the orange goo is called into action, it meets or exceeds CE Level 1 protection. By the way, kudos to Klim for including a real back protector with their gear. Why do other manufacturers just include a throwaway foam placeholder in the back, forcing you to choose between spending more money for real back protection or just take your chances?

To test the armor, I grabbed a hammer. Not just any hammer, a long handle, 28oz framing hammer. That way, no one would claim that I wasn’t trying hard enough. I put my hand beneath the back pad and bravely gave a healthy swing. There is no doubt in my mind that with lesser armor I would have had broken metacarpals for days, but the D30 just stiffened up, absorbed the energy of the impact and returned to its normal, malleable self.

Then I did it again.

And a third time for filming purposes.

Then I high fived my cameraman Kevin Rimes with my impacted hand. Not something I could have done with any other armor.

Then he said that we didn’t get audio and we had to repeat the filming all over again.

Kevin. You are fired.

More hammer blows.

But a note: at freezing temps, the armor does stiffen. More on that later. Which brings us to the road test.

And my chosen destination? The Klim offices in Rigby, Idaho, of course.
I left Wenatchee under blue skies and cool temps in the high 50’s, made an overnight stop in Clarkston, headed over Lolo Pass to Missoula then down to my overnight camp near Rigby. In the true spirit of fully testing the Latitude jacket and pant, I only took off the gear to sleep. It came off as I got in my sleeping bag and I put it on as I crawled out.

Of course, the fact that it was 32 degrees in Rigby when I woke up may have had something to do with that. As I rolled out of my sleeping bag to put on the jacket and pants lying next to me in my tent, I discovered I had accidentally laid the jacket face up over the top my helmet. It was then that I learned that D30 armor does get very stiff when the temperature reaches freezing. In my case, the D30 back pad had slightly frozen into a convex curve. This stretched the jacket fabric enough making it difficult to put on. When I did wrestle the jacket on, I looked like a turtle with its shell put on upside down. However, a few minutes of body heat softened the pad up enough so that it returned to its happy, limber self. Not everyone will live in this gear in freezing temps, so this might only apply to me. This is the testing I do in the name of gear review for you.

latitude review - Ted Edwards
Old bike. Cold bike. The picture is perfectly focused, the dash is frosted over. A heated liner is the perfect mate to the Latitude in these temps. Get one!

Way above my pay grade.

Later that morning, I had the privilege of spending the better part of a day with Dustin Pancheri,and got a great tour of Klim HQ. This is what I uncovered.

Dustin is the kind of person who after a brief introduction, makes you feel like you are chatting with an old riding buddy: stories get exchanged, laughter, knowing smiles. He is so passionate about the sport, the outdoors, the Klim family and his own family that you get the sense that he eats, sleeps and breathes the gear head life. Even he admitted that sometimes he will be at home, have an idea and say “Oh my gosh, I just had an idea. I can’t wait to get to work.”

Passionate.

But it’s not just Dustin. Everyone at Klim that I met embodied that passion. Sales people, marketing managers, warehouse workers, upper management, all shook my hand, said they were glad to meet me and then would apologize for the popcorn butter on their hands. They were all happy to stop and say hello, share a smile and a laugh. Even when contacting Klim headquarters to set up this interview, a real person answered the phone.

Yes, an actual human being. Not a endlessly irritating “press 1 if you want sales, press 2 if you are facing north, press 3 if you have no frickin’ clue what you want, press star if you hate phone menus”. I was so surprised to talk to an actual person at their home offices that when they answered I froze and completely forgot I spoke English.

That same passion for people is probably why Klim offices are still in CEO Justin Summer’s hometown of Rigby, Idaho and not in a massive sprawling urban jungle of asphalt and glass.

After our tour I suggested to Dustin that he could use me as an excuse to get out of work and join me on a ride to lunch. He didn’t take a whole lot of convincing and suggested we ride to the nearby town of Victor. Dustin grabbed a brand new BMW R1200GS from the Klim offices. New as in it had 10 miles and he still needed to put the seat on. I know he was jealous of my 20 year old VFR with 75,000 miles on the clock.

Now, you would think that being a brand new bike with new tires would call for a gentle breaking in, and that Dustin would lead a casual cruise into Victor.

You would be wrong.

I am not a fast rider, but I am not slow either. Yes, I am on a VFR and have done a track day on it, but my bike is also as outdated as my iPhone 4 and it is fully loaded with 4 days’ worth of camping gear. I am using that as my excuse for getting completely smoked by Dustin. True, it was a road he was familiar with and laced with strategically placed apex potholes big enough to swallow unsuspecting children, and I was still shaking off the morning’s freezing temperatures. I am using that as my excuse for being thoroughly schooled by Dustin.

I think that is Klim in a nutshell. That same passion Dustin exhibits in his riding, Klim puts into their gear. You sense their DNA when you put it on. If it is built to withstand what their employees can put it though, then it is good enough for me.

I returned home the next day, having put 1600 miles in 4 days on the Latitude jacket and pant in temperatures ranging from 32 degrees (I used my heated liner) to 88, at speeds from road construction crawling to 110+ (actual figures shall remain secret to protect the guilty) and having done everything from walking the Klim facilities for hours and taking photos to setting up camp and cooking dinner, literally only taking the gear off to sleep, and putting it on immediately after waking up. Here is what I learned.

latitude review - Ted Edwards
More proof of torture testing. Those are bug strikes, and plenty of them. I will be shocked if Bike Bandit lets me test anything after treating gear this. About the only thing I didn’t do was crash test it. Don’t get any ideas…

The Klim Company is family, passionate about the outdoors and experts at making gear that withstands the abuse that adventurous people put it through. The Klim Latitude jacket and pant also pass the biggest test of gear: they disappear when you ride in it. In freezing temps you stay warm, in heat you stay cool, at speed nothing flaps around. It seals out the cold and in the heat vents almost as good as a full mesh jacket. After wearing it for 4 days non-stop (with only one shower day, for testing purposes of course) it still smelled like a jacket and not like a sweaty middle-school locker room after a wrestling match. The Polygiene Odor Control Technology at work.

Any product reflects the mind of its producer. The conscious of the creator is borne out in their creation. Their mind becomes matter. So, when you pick up a product, you are holding the philosophy and paradigm of its creator. The people at Klim are just plain badasses and it shows in all of their garments.

The Latitude jacket and pant wear like a well-engineered second skin that God would have given us if we were supposed to hurl ourselves through the atmosphere at stupid speeds with nothing between ourselves and the asphalt but two credit card sized contacts of rubber.

Given all of this functionality, quality and protection, I did something unheard of.

I gave away some of my gear.

Shocking, I know.

I like the Latitude jacket and pant so much that I, the gear junkie, kept the Klim Latitude jacket and pant for good and gave away my ADV jacket, my touring gear and even my rain suit. It replaces all of them. Some people will balk at the price of Klim gear but trust me, it is cheaper to buy quality the first time around, rather than stockpiling a bunch of gear to fill riding niches.

If you live in more temperate climates, this is the only piece of riding equipment you need and you should get the gray and high-vis version to stay a touch cooler. If you want that ADV style to go with your KTM Adventure, Honda Africa Twin, Triumph Tiger or other ADV bike, then the all gray will tell people you mean business. I ordered the black.

I did keep my track leathers as well as my hardcore mesh gear for those 100+ degree days. The Latitude has no pretensions about replacing either one of those. Other than that, this is what I automatically reach for when I go to my newly shrunken gear closet.

If you have any questions about the Klim Latitude jacket and pant, want pictures of specific features (check the unboxing video first) or any other inquiries, please don’t hesitate to leave a question. I am a rider just like you, and I know that buying a garment sight unseen has an element of faith. To help you make a better informed purchase, I am at your disposal for your questions. So take advantage. I might not be able to answer every question, but I can try.

latitude review - Ted Edwards
This is the moment when the rational part of your brain asks you why you are getting on a frozen motorcycle. I never have a good comeback for that one. Good thing I had quality gear.

BikeBandit Guest Blogger Series: Seven Days of Recalibration

 

“The more vast the amount of time we’ve left behind us, the more irresistable is the voice calling us to return to it.”

– Milan Kundera

 

By now I have adapted to the scramble to simultaneously close my classroom and ready my bike for annual Mild Hogs June ride, seven days on the roads of eastern Oregon, but it’s all worth it once underway.  Despite riding these roads for many years, they still call to me across their vast, empty, rolling plains, begging me to return.  I dare not disappoint.

Ted Edwards - Seven Days of Recalibration
By the numbers: 8 riders, 7 days, 3 states, 1600 miles, 150 head of cattle, and 1 suicidal robin.

Saturday morning, I made the rendezvous with the Wenatchee contingent of the Mild Hogs riding group.  Main hog Terry Hammond was on his Aprilia, Jack Larkin on his Yamaha FJR, my step-brother Todd Shiflett with his classic 1994 VFR750 and my father Don Edwards on his ST1300.  We planned to congregate in Ukiah, Oregon by 1:30 that afternoon with the far eastern chapter of the Mild Hogs, Jeff Pyper on his Kawasaki Concours, Dave Kelley on his FJR and my brother-in-law Trevor Alexander piloting his 2006 VFR800.  Our group wanted to be the first ones at the rendezvous point, so we decided to push the pace from the start.

If I ever find the inventor of heated gear, I will buy him a scotch.  The June weather leaving Wenatchee was deceptive; sunny, but with temps in the mid-40’s.  With the push of a few buttons, my heated grips and heated jacket made me appreciate the science and engineering majors I knew in college.  Little did I know, firing up the heated gear would be a daily theme the entire trip.

We bombed through flat, pretty farm land in Quincy to flat out ugly land in Hanford and Benton City, which made me appreciate anyone who studied irrigation and land management in college.  Once in Oregon, we tackled Butter Creek road which, like its name, started out with buttery smooth asphalt, but soon degraded into my nemesis: chip seal.  It is a well-documented fact that I attract chip seal like a trailer park attracts tornados.  If you ask anyone I ride with, they will tell you that if you follow my taillights long enough, we will, at some point, ride on that evil concoction of tar and gravel.  If I could have found the inventor of chip seal in college, I would have forced him to ride a motorcycle on his creation.

Nevertheless, the road is twisty, the weather warms up, my spirits thaw and I decide to take off my heated jacket.  After all, it is mid-June, right?  Isn’t it supposed to warm up?  Big mistake.

We headed south on highway 395 towards our convergence point of Ukiah, Oregon when the rain, sleet and snow hit.  How can there be sleet and snow mid-June?  I pulled over, donned not only my heated gear, but also my rain gear.  Sleet pelted my helmet like someone shooting me with a pellet gun on full automatic.  Once fully suited and resembling the Stay-Puft marshmallow man from Ghostbusters, I was tempted to speed up catch the rest of the group.  Fat chance.  Doing the speed limit in the sleet and snow was not an option.  Neither was seeing the road.  I was fearful that a log truck with 20 year old wiper blades would come barreling up behind me while I struggled to do 35 mph, signaling a trip to the E.R. and a call to my next of kin.  My survival technique was to aim for where there were no trees since I figured that gap would be the most likely to have pavement.  It worked.  Mercifully, the sleet and snow stopped after about 20 minutes and when I found dry pavement I used the right twist grip to speed up and dry off.  At least, that was my pre-planned excuse should one of Oregon’s finest decide to inquire.

I arrived in Ukiah to find the rest of my group waiting for me and I quickly peeled away layer after layer of Gore-Tex and Cordura.  I had to pee for the last 30 miles and the driving rain didn’t help.

Ted Edwards - Seven Days of Recalibration
Todd is not in this photo. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss how to keep him well fed so he doesn’t eat the rest of the group.

When the far eastern contingent finally appeared in Ukiah, we joined forces and continued south along 395 to finally get in some real riding.  Despite being a major highway, 395 south of Ukiah is as twisty as any eastern Oregon road.  Todd, Trevor and I took the lead and started to put some heat into the tires.  That is, until a pair of deer put some heat into Todd’s shorts.

Two of the bothersome rodents decided that the middle of the road was a good place to play Frogger.  One deer made a wise choice and made a break for the side of the road; the other deer, not so much.  I can only assume that the remaining deer was enamored with the technological marvel that is gear driven cams and wanted to observe all three of our VFRs up close.  Todd would have preferred otherwise.  The road rat finally changed its mind and made a break for the barbed wire fence, getting wedged mid-way at the chest.  Now I felt sorry for the deer, but also grateful that it will spend the next few minutes ruining a perfectly good future set of deerskin moccasins and not playing Frogger with the rest of the group behind us.

Our group rolled into the tiny town of Prairie City, Oregon shortly afterwards, likely doubling the town’s population.  As we constructed burritos for dinner, Todd decided that he wanted to assuage his brush with death by eating as much as humanly possible for the rest of the trip, starting right the heck now.  His burrito was so big that one tortilla could not contain it, so he wrapped a second tortilla at an angle around the first one, like a bias-ply tire, thus inventing what the Mild Hogs now call the Bias-Ply Burrito.  An upgraded belted radial version is in the prototype stage.  Todd, Trevor and I attempted to work off dinner with a game of horse on the shortened basketball hoop mounted in the gravel driveway.  None of us are very good, and we had indulged in way too many burritos and single malt, so despite the hoop being only 8’ off the ground, we could hardly make a basket.  Or find the hoop.  Or keep score.  How do you spell horse again?  Nursing the inevitable food and scotch induced coma, we put ourselves to sleep watching Dust to Glory on Netflix.  Best movie ever.

The temperature Sunday morning was 31.7 degrees.  Did somebody forget to notify Oregon that it was mid-June, not mid-January?  After much stalling, guzzling of coffee (and a few aspirin) and Todd perfecting the steel belted version of Bias-Ply Breakfast Burrito, we headed for dazzling, twisty and terminally flawed Austin Junction, a.k.a. The Cow Chip Highway.

Ted Edwards - Seven Days of Recalibration
Ummm, yeah. I guess they do own the road.

I have never been on The Cow Chip Highway and not been caught in a cattle drive.  Anyone who believes that the old west is dead needs to ride here.  Most riders negotiate blind corners and anticipate oncoming cars, maybe a deer playing Frogger, but on The Cow Chip Highway, its cattle drives right down the middle of the asphalt.  Usually I can find a path through the cattle herd without pissing off the bull (a skill not taught in your typical MSF course).  Not this time.  On this day, the herd we encountered was so thick and so many cattle were being forcibly mounted so often that the group wisely gave way and bid retreated to a nearby pullout.  Or, as my ex-Marine dad would quote, “We didn’t retreat, we just advanced in the opposite direction”.

Except Terry.  He wagered that the large tailpipe on his Aprilia did not too closely resemble a mounting point for the horny bull in the herd and hugged the shoulder to make his way through.  However, I would have paid big money to hear him explain to the local Aprilia dealer (of which there are none in eastern Oregon) how he got bull semen into his Aprilia’s exhaust.  Terry was now on one side of the herd with us on the other.  Terry rode off, abandoning the group, never to be seen again until the end of the day.

We stick together for brotherhood and safety in this rugged and remote land.  We count heads at every stop because no one wants to be left by the side of the road with a broken bike or a broken body.  Terry’s abandonment would be a bone of contention the rest of the trip. We all agreed to not let Terry babysit our kids at a swimming pool.

Ted Edwards - Seven Days of Recalibration
Cow pies got flung everywhere, even my jacket and helmet. Good thing I had my visor down.

After the herd passed, we let loose on The Cow Chip Highway.  Or should I say, got loose.  There is enough loose chip seal (did I mention that I attract chip seal) and cow pies that I thanked my dirt bike roots.  It did not take much throttle to break the back end loose and I hung off the bike as much as possible to take away lean angle and keep the bike upright wile accelerating out of each corner.  The back end wiggled enough under just mild throttle that Jeff commented on the frequency of the back end of my VFR stepping out.  Occasionally, both ends slid and I maximized my focus on good throttle control (thank you Keith Code).  Focus, throttle, and pucker.

Cow poo was everywhere.  It covered our tires, rims, brake calipers, fender wells, clogged our radiators and even flung on my jacket and helmet, my penalty for following Trevor too closely.  Yet, we high fived, celebrated and could not wipe the s#@!-eating grin off our faces, pun intended.

Next, we turned south on 395, then west through Long Creek, Monument and Kimberly, then on highway 26 back to Prairie City.  Once there, Todd, Trevor and I washed the cow pies off the bikes, jackets and helmets and joined the rest of the Mild Hogs by the fire.  The company of brothers, a glowing fire, good burgers, single malt scotch, a cheap cigar and a toast to fallen brothers provided the perfect answer to the unending question of why we do such bizarre things.

That night, the Netflix motorcycle movie of choice was Road, the documentary about the Dunolp family.  It seems to me that if your last name is Dunlop, you are born with your right hand in the shape of a twist grip followed by a spectacular but painful road racing career filled with death and victory, sometimes only a few days apart.  This is my reminder to focus on the present and why I ride.

Ted Edwards - Seven Days of Recalibration
The group poses in front of the Sumpter gold dredge to try to put it’s mammoth size in perspective. It is a beast.

Monday was bitter cold again.  This is June, right?  Time to fire up the heated gear.   Given the weather, Todd, Trevor, my dad and I decided to do a short loop with less miles and more sightseeing while Jeff, Jack, Terry and Dave waited for a good weather window to head south.  Our destination took us east on highway 26 to investigate the ghost town of Whitney.  Hard to believe, but one house in the abandoned town was actually for sale.  Go figure.

We blitzed through more great roads to Sumpter to check out the historic gold dredge.  The remote and rugged town, named after the Fort Sumpter of civil war fame, once had a population over 2,000 in its gold mining heyday, but now has about 200.  The mining dredge is a stoic reminder of the boom times and looks like a wooden steamboat from hell, complete with heavy iron buckets, wrist-thick steel cables and enough pulleys, pipes, wood and iron to confuse their purpose and yet, only one tiny fire extinguisher.  OSHA would have a fit.  In its lifetime it extracted over 126,000 ounces of gold, so something must have worked right.

Ted Edwards - Seven Days of Recalibration
Todd and Trevor get in touch with the pavement outside of Sumpter. Literally.

As hard as it was to leave that mammoth machine, the mythically evil Dooley mountain road lay in wait for us.  With 180 turns in 18 miles, it is our Tail of the Dragon and it sounds like a sport bike rider’s dream, but it is as beautiful and deadly as a rattlesnake defending its territory.  Defend it does, baited with gravel-lined hairpins and lethal drop-offs.  This is one road where you absolutely do not make a mistake.  The reward for lack of focus here is a log truck coming the opposite direction, trailer crossing center stripe into your lane.  Or, a mandatory 100 foot drop off leading to pine trees sticking up like Vietnam era punji sticks.  There is no shoulder, no room for error, just great pavement, a pocket of mid-corner gravel, then a sheer drop.  Focus, good line choice and fine throttle control are the way through.  Trevor’s focus lapsed for a nanosecond entering a hairpin and he butt-puckered enough to pull the fabric in his new Corbin seat up into a volcano shape.  Time to dial it back and focus, all of us.

Tuesday morning was cold, again.  With drizzle, again. Because it’s June, so why not?   Did I already mention how much I like heated gear? We arrived that morning at Baker City for breakfast where we finally convinced Todd to get his front tire headshake resolved.  He had been nursing the wobble since day one of the ride and was trying to ride around it, but the imbalance had reached critical mass and needed to be dealt with.  Todd, Trevor and I split from the group and found a local bike shop where the teenager gave us a massive middle finger saying that they will not balance a tire that was not purchased from them, citing liability reasons.  In other words, you didn’t buy your tire from us, so we won’t help you out.  However, it seemed to me more of a liability to send a bike that actively wants tank slap you into oblivion back on the road for another 1200 miles of high speed twisty roads.

Our riding group has our own tire changer and balancer that we use regularly.  We all mount and balance our own tires and have likely done more tire swaps than the teenager who shooed us away.  Not to mention that Todd Shiflett (a.k.a. The Carb Whisperer) has been a professional power sports mechanic from birth.  He was seen TIG welding in his ultrasound, and can mount and balance a motorcycle tire in Indy Car pit stop time with a beer in one hand and cigar in his mouth.  I have witnessed it firsthand.  Impressive stuff.

Fortunately, our next attempt at a nearby shop revealed real mechanics.  They tossed Todd some DynaBeads and an air hose and let him do his magic in the parking lot.  I offered chocolate as payment into their greasy hands, which they didn’t refuse.  My kind of guys.

The rest of the group had gone ahead without us, so once finished, we used our delay as an excuse to exercise the top of our power bands.  All 3 of our VFRs howled a V-four exhaust note that made roadside cattle turn their heads and inspired them to make a cow pie or two.  Fine by me, as long as it doesn’t end up on the road.  From Baker City to Brownlee dam to Cambridge, Idaho, the 3 of us fell into a perfect symphony of sound, spacing and focus as we ate miles and annihilated corners.  We could not wipe the grins away.

Ted Edwards - Seven Days of Recalibration
Fred Deal’s cabin is a thing of beauty. Many of us were inventing ways to stay longer.

Our pit stop in Baker City took over well over an hour, but I know we made good pace since when we found the rest of the group at McCall, Idaho I asked my dad how long they had been waiting for us.  He silently pointed to his convenience store coffee he was drinking.  He had just taken the first sip.

It felt good to have the group reassembled for the run into Fred Deal’s cabin in Warm Lake, Idaho.  He facetiously describes it as a cabin, but log home dream mansion is more fitting.  It also happens to be at the terminus of one of the best kept motorcycle secrets in the northwest: Warm Lake road.  Pure sport touring heaven, its perfect pavement, banked hairpins, and zero shoulder makes sure you focus only on the present; not the past corner, not the next corner, just the corner you are on Right Now.  Here, confidence in your level of grip and your skill set is needed to eradicate fear.  However, what happened after we arrived really put the squirt in my shorts.

There is only one lodge at Warm Lake, accessed mainly by dirt roads.  Since our group had already ridden the dirt road into Fred’s remote cabin on our sporbikes, none of us were anxious to remount.  Fred, Milt Herman (who was staying with Fred) and the other five riders, piled into Fred’s small car like college students packing onto a Volkswagen Beetle.  This left Todd, Trevor and I with the unsavory options of riding our trio of VFRs like dirtbikes, walk, or starve.  That is, until we spotted the unsuspecting quad in the basement.  Nothing good happened next.

Ted Edwards - Seven Days of Recalibration
Warm Lake road, blue skies, mountain air, skilled riders and great bikes. Can’t every day be like this?

Todd drove and Trevor rode on the back rack of the quad which unweighted the front wheels, eliminating that thing we take for granted called “steering”.  Since that seemed important, I sat on the front rack in an attempt to regain steering control.  Evidently, my left handed-ness makes the left half of my body significantly heavier than my right, enough to make Todd panic shout, “She’s pulling to the left!”  I slid to the right, which also had the added benefit of allowing Todd to see where he was going.  Pure panic set in on the first attempt to negotiate a corner until we discovered that Trevor and I needed to lean like monkeys in a sidecar to get the quad to even remotely think of steering.  More yelling ensued at the first muddy patch of road and Trevor got caked with mud, for which he officially labeled Todd a sunofabitch.  I soon realized that if I didn’t hold my legs straight out in front in a plank position, the giant lugs on the quad’s mud tires would’ve sucked in my motorcycle boots, with me not far behind.  Todd informed me that should I get sucked under, he could stop the quad, but only after the dreaded thump-thump that would signal my trip to the E.R. and a phone call to my next of kin.  I was more afraid on that quad than I had been on any part of the trip.

After we miraculously arrived at dinner unscathed, Todd continued his theme of eating his way through brushes with death and ordered a burger called The Captain Kirk, with Trevor following suit.  The Captain Kirk is a burger made from an entire cow.  Simply finishing the whole meal, fries and all, allows you to sign the lodge’s book of fame.  Only 3 people had done so that year.  Remarkably, both Todd and Trevor polished off the meal and signed the book.  Todd, to prove a point, then ate the rest of someone else’s meal.  Impressive stuff.

Remounting the quad for the trip back, amongst more squeals of joy and panic, we decided that should a hungry bear appear, it could easily have caught our overloaded quad.  Todd and I concocted a plan.  Should a bear appear, we would simply shove Trevor off, curing both the problem of speeding up the quad and feeding the bear in one masterful stroke.  Pure genius.  I am sure Trevor agreed.

Wednesday morning was cold, again.  The heated gear went on, again, but with June-like blue skies that promised hope.  We had an excuse to wait for it to warm up as Dave Kelley made a sprint into McCall to make duplicates of his newly broken key which he had amputated itself into his locking saddlebag.  Dave played the odds and had 4 sets of keys made in McCall, 3 of which actually worked when he got back.

Leaving Fred’s log home oasis was painful, but Warm Lake road awaited.  Again, all 8 of us slalomed together in perfect spacing, pacing and motorcycle harmony, until I pulled over to turn on the GoPro.

Ted Edwards - Seven Days of Recalibration
Todd shows off the robin that lost its game of chicken with the VFRs left fork tube. I am mildly shocked that Todd didn’t eat it too.

Todd and Trevor, being a good shepherds (hear that Terry?), pulled over and waited for me to make sure I was okay.  I rejoined them after a GoPro mount changeover and luckily recorded what transpired next.  At speed (and I do mean Speed) a particularly chunky robin, who must have lost all will to live, made a Kamikaze run into the left fork tube of Todd’s VFR.  The fork tube won the encounter but Todd reported that the post-impact explosion of feathers came over the top of the fairing, around the sides of the bike and even up through his dash.  The only clue Trevor and I had about the incident was riding through the massive snowstorm of feathers.  The next day, Todd would still pick feathers out of his radiator.  It made me wonder what would have happened if we pulled into a certain shop in Baker City and asked to replace a left side fork seal and steering head bearings after a bird strike.  I can picture them saying, “I am sorry, we didn’t sell you the bird, so it is a liability for us to help you out.”

Once turned north, I was painfully reminded that I attract chip seal.  The chip seal construction stretched from about Riggins, Idaho to White Bird, give or take.  The endless miles of chip seal and road construction had the combined effect of not only making us all do 35 mph behind R.V.s for an hour, but also pissing us all off, so we took out our frustrations on White Bird grade.

White Bird grade is yet more banked switchback heaven, with enough sketchy pavement, cows and no center stripe to make you focus Right Now.  Evidently our roaring group of riders shredding the pavement earned us the right to all be labeled assholes by the locals.  I failed to remind them that while we are all indeed assholes, Todd is technically a sunofabitch, according to Trevor.  Huge difference.

We entered Clarkston, Washington and headed 22 miles south along the Snake River to our destination for the night, the Snake River Rendezvous.  The remote group settlement has several cabins that are little more than four walls with concrete aggregate floors, a toilet and upper sleeping lofts.  There is no internet, no cell service, no phones and no one else in the camp except us.  It’s just the way we like it, and we made our own entertainment.

Ted Edwards - Seven Days of Recalibration
The Mild Hogs have a knack for finding stunning places to stay in the middle of nowhere, so we make our own entertainment. Just the way we like it.

Trevor and I attempted to inflate a basketball for a game of horse rematch, but the ball failed to hold air.  Next, we decided to break into the abandoned school bus on the property, but despite my best efforts I failed to get it started, which was probably for the best.  What other mayhem could we invent?  Hmm, the electric fence looks entertaining.  Maybe not. But we did find big, flat washers and some flat plywood with holes.  Cornhole time!  And cornhole we did, for hours though dusk and into the night.  For half time entertainment, we observed a bighorn sheep grazing across the river with a full curl.  As the halftime grand finale, Trevor and I went to the lower terraced lawn and did a two man interpretive dance of Terry abandoning the group on The Cow Chip Highway, which the group rewarded with a standing ovation and rave reviews.  Look for it on Broadway.

We competed, laughed, trash talked and high-fived into the night until only Jeff, Todd, Trevor and I remained with our single malt, cigars (both of which are banned at the Snake River Rendezvous, I might add) and fading light.  We all agreed that this throttle therapy among a band of brothers in remote locations is soul regenerating stuff that puts life in perspective.

Thursday is cold and drizzly with a 70% chance of rain and heated gear, because that is June, evidently.  So, to wait out the weather, we rode to nearby Dworshak dam for a full tour.

Dworshak dam is massive, beautiful concrete dam with a huge crack.  That’s right, a giant crack.  It even has a pipe to pump put the 350 or so gallons a minute (!) pouring through the crack in the concrete.  I would fancy to think that the engineers who built the dam were better at solving problems than me, but it turns out we are all men when it comes to solutions.  Dam cracked?  Ah, just let it drain out.  Sounds good.  Who wants Bias-Ply Burritos for dinner?

Ted Edwards - Seven Days of Recalibration
The group listens to a long dam lecture. (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself)

We must have been the worst tour group ever: eight men acting like children, side conversations, crude remarks, squeezing against each other in the elevator, spitting over the edge of the dam and no shortage of dam jokes.  So, after endlessly irritating our tour guide and easily overstaying our welcome, we turned our attention to the glory that is P1.  Headed uphill, this road served up mile after relentless mile of banked switchbacks on shoulderless road with trees ready gather us after our mircosecond of inattention.  Time again to focus on the present.  No past, no future, only this corner Right Now.

And it didn’t stop there.  Making time toward our overnight digs at Terry’s condo on Lake Coeur d’Alene, I was introduced to Idaho’s highway 97 for the first time.  More tight hairpins on more narrow roads and more peg scraping lean angles required focus and good throttle control.  By now, this was paradoxically remarkable and routine, and there was nowhere else I would rather be.

However, riding this way for 6 days in a row had taken its toll.  After full bellies of motorcycle stroganoff (a Mild Hogs rite of passage) we were shoved back into the shock and reality of things like cell service, billboards, and television news of shootings.  It did us in.  We all collapsed into our own little worlds at different rates as conversations stopped and we stared blankly at glowing smartphones.  I tried to watch the Catalunya round of MotoGP on my tablet but fell asleep in the middle.

Friday morning, it was time to go our separate ways home.  Don, Terry, Trevor and I pounded straight, perfect pavement with plenty of shoulder and grassy run offs all the way into Wenatchee.  It was so boring I got nostalgic for the forced focus of imperfect roads with no margin for error and dangers multiplied by speed.

When watching Dust to Glory the previous Saturday, one of the racers explained that after cheating death for 1000 miles of unpredictable roads, cows, cactus and crowds, the stresses of life are not a big deal when put into perspective.  We can relate.  Nothing in life increases your focus more than piloting a motorcycle, because nothing else in life is a bigger rewarder of skill or a more severe punisher of inattention.  Brake just a nanosecond too late after seeing two deer in the middle of the road?  That will make your butt pucker enough to tear the seat fabric.  Even worse, you could go home in a body bag.

Ted Edwards - Seven Days of Recalibration
I am endlessly nostalgic for it. And yes, this photo is my new screensaver.

Upon returning home, the little irritants of daily life manage to creep back; being rejected for a job, someone cuts you off in traffic or a car breaks down.  Who cares?  You just almost died six times from riding your bike off the road in a sleet storm, hitting a deer, riding through a cattle drive, surviving a bird strike, having a massive tankslapper near a concrete dam, or being launched off the road into trees at 80 mph.  So what if Starbucks messes up your coffee order?  Tiny things compared to the way a motorcycle can change your life in an instant.  A motorcycle recalibrates your perspective on life.  It’s why we ride.

The famous author Milan Kundera understood this psychology.  He said, “The man hunched over his motorcycle can focus only on the present… he is caught in a fragment of time cut off from both the past and the future… he has no fear, because the source of fear is in the future, and a person freed of the future has nothing to fear.” Except sleet, deer, cattle drives, cow chips, quads, mid-corner gravel, sheer drops, trees, chip seal, tankslappers, fractured dams, broken keys and bird strikes.  Yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Algos means suffering. So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return” – Milan Kundera

BikeBandit Guest Blogger Series: What Could Possibly Go Wrong

 

 

ACCEPT THE CHALLENGES SO THAT YOU CAN FEEL THE EXHILARATION OF VICTORY

– George S. Patton

 

Yvon Chouinard, the dirtbag climber, mountaineer and founder of Patagonia outerwear is famously quoted as saying, “It is not an adventure until something goes wrong.” The same truth applies to motorcycling and for us, the adventure started before we left our hometown of Wenatchee, Washington.

For some random reason, instead of meeting at a gas station or someone’s house to congregate before our annual Canadian tour, we decided to meet at the local motorcycle shop where Todd Shiftlett, longtime powersports mechanic (a.k.a. The Carb Whisperer) was a former employee. My father Don on his Honda ST1300, my son Matt on his 1991 VFR750 and me on my 1998 VFR800 pulled into Doghouse Motorsports. Good thing. Trevor Alexander, Todd’s brother-in-law decided it was time for new rear brake pads for his 2006 VFR800.

This would normally be something easy to ride around on a sportbike, but with the VFR’s linked brakes, using the front brake only technique was not an option. Todd simply rolled the VFR to the parking spot nearest the garage bay and got to work replacing the wafer thin pads. As Todd ?nished, I took a humorous glance at my rear brake pads before donning my helmet. I should never have looked. I needed rear brake pads too and mine were thinner than Trevor’s. However, I am grateful that rear brake pads were the only thing amiss.

 

No one has ever seen his face since it is always buried in a bike or in a helmet. Some say his eyes light up when he brakes, and that the part of his brain dedicated to bikes is big enough to have its own gravitational ?eld. All we know is he’s called The Carb Whisperer.

 

The bike was totaled just 1 month before, I had only assembled the bike the day before we left and it had not even been test ridden after re-assembly. Some parts of the bike were literally held together by superglue, but that is another story for another time. Todd just sighed. So the adventure began. All I can say is thank goodness for center stands, single sided swing arms and Todd Shi?ett. The Carb Whisperer had them changed in NASCAR-like pit stop ef?ciency and we were ?nally read to leave. What else could go wrong?

 

My VFR800 a few days before the trip. The new OEM fairings from Bike Bandit (shameless plug) would not arrive in time for the trip. So the old ones were superglued together for Canada.

 

The ride from Wenatchee to Wilbur is ?at farmland and we used it to make up for lost time, using none of our new brakes whatsoever. Turns out this was a good thing since, due to a wiring issue, every time my dad hit his brakes, a fuse blew taking out his driving lights and dash, which meant no electronic speedometer. This explained why his saddlebag contained about two dozen 15 amp mini-fuses. Ironically, the oldest bike on the trip was having no issues whatsoever. My son Matt had outgrown his old Kawasaki Ninja 500 and was loving his ?rst tour on a bulletproof 1991 VFR750. It was much more reliable than his old Ninja 500 which we resurrected from near-dead, earning it the nickname The Zombie Ninja. That bike had a well earned reputation for spontaneously ejecting things as he rode. Exhausts mainly. Sometimes a face shield. Often gasoline.

After riding north along Seven Bays road, then east to Usk, we turned south away from the Canadian border to ride Flowery Trail Road. Flowery Trail Road is the main route to a local ski area, and is as twisty and wooded as you like. Here, we ?nally used our brakes. Thoroughly. The relentlessly thick evergreen forest echoed back our baf?e-free exhausts in every direction, which is likely why Washington’s ?nest heard us coming a long way off. At the end of the road, the trooper simply sat at a side road watching us approach and he showed no interest in pulling out. It had the intended effect, and we all breathed a sigh of relief, especially my dad who had unfortunately used his brakes meaning he had blown out his dash and truly had no clue how fast he was going. I’m sure state troopers hear that all the time.

 

Scenery like this makes it all worth it. When I stopped to take this photo, the whole group turned around assuming I had broke down. Wrong, but not a bad guess.

 

We rode north and that night found our usual digs at the Adventure Hotel in Nelson, BC. After stuf?ng ourselves with prime rib, beer, and tales of how the trip was already developing its own morbid personality, we rested for the next day. Good thing. The next morning we rode north to Kaslo and visited the farmer’s market where I get the same peach danish from the same local baker every year, kind of my pastry good luck charm. Todd didn’t get one, which was a bad move.

The road from Kaslo to New Denver along Canadian Highway 31A must have been designed by an engineer who rode motorcycles. If there is a straight stretch in the road’s 28 miles, I have yet to ?nd it, which makes passing near impossible. We had a few miles of clear highway, but quickly caught up to the trio of cars in front that were in no hurry to go anywhere. I could literally feel the pain from riding so slowly. Nothing on this trip was going right.

 

Notice all the photos with Todd in this position? This is how you whisper to carbs on 22 year old sport bikes. After 10 minutes of this, the bike started right.

 

After a full decade on 31A, we ?nally made it to New Denver and gassed up. Then things got even more interesting. While exiting New Denver, Todd’s classic 1993 CBR900RR decided it was nap time, and quit running to take a roadside nap. Like a good dad, Todd decided to push this classic Honda uphill to a paved pullout for a better sleeping spot. We all watched Todd push uphill for about a full minute or ?ve before we decided that he had gotten enough of a hamstring and glute workout and helped him push the bike the rest of the way. We further assisted Todd by peeing on the side of the road and staring off into the distance, admiring the peerless Canadian mountain range.

The Carb Whisperer checked everything in his power, but could not nail down the malady. Mysteriously, the bike restarted after 10 minutes of siesta time, and we plowed on to Nakusp. Shortly after leaving Nakusp, Todd’s bike decides it’s nap time once again. We again help by urinating publicly and generally mucking about. This is what true adventurers do. The CBR again restarted after a 10 minute nap and off we rode. At least we had the golden road, highway 6 into Vernon ahead. Maybe we could salvage at least that part of the ride.

As we got off the ferry crossing that signals the beginning of highway 6 and ?nally lit the wicks on our aging sportbikes, the largest cow in recorded human history decided to take up residence in the middle of the road and not move. He was the proverbial immovable object. What’s going on here? This is the most bizarre trip ever. We rode by gingerly and only got a few miles of clean road before “she” came along. “She” was a young female with a pink and white leather jacket on a white CBR600 and she rode by us all like we were riding Trail 90s. Todd let her get a good lead and I immediately knew what he was doing. I saw his toe tap the shift lever twice, the clutch dropped on his CBR and off he shot in a blur, with my 17 year old son on his VFR chasing him. I screamed “Bad uncle!” in my helmet for Todd setting a bad example for my son and decided to set a good example by not giving chase. Instead, I scanned the road for exit marks and bike parts. None were found, thank God.

When we regroup at Vernon, I hotly scold The Carb Whisper who Matt now thinks is the coolest uncle in the world.

 

Our bikes at the motel in Vernon. Notice the badly cracked cowl on the VFR? That was the nice part of the bodywork.

 

That’s when it struck me that all of these mishaps, breakdowns and misadventures were not a bad thing, they were necessary. In essence, on a ride where everything goes as planned, adventure and story telling grind to a halt. Maladies are mandatory for a proper adventure.

Imagine asking Todd about his ride had everything gone perfectly. “Tell me about your ride.” “Best roads in North America, great food, perfect weather. Had a good time.” Boring. No one wants to hear that. In true adventure something goes wrong and gives us an obstacle to overcome, a challenge to accept, maybe even a rescue from danger. These are the origins of a good story, and good story telling. This is how it needs to be. The story really goes like this… “Hey Todd, tell me about your ride.” “Holy $#*&! We couldn’t even get out of the stupid parking lot. First, I track down a set of stock pads for Trevors’ bike and swap them out in the parking lot. No problem right? Then Ted gets a far off look in his eye and sprints back to his bike. Now he needs new pads too. Except the shop doesn’t have any, so I ?nd a similar pair and have to go to the grinder and create a notch so they ?t. Then Don keeps blowing fuses, my bike takes a crap on me…” And so on.

What comes next is a glorious story telling blended with a mixture of near misses with Washington’s ?nest, roadside cows, female sport bikers and pool injuries. As the story gets told, more beer gets drank accompanied by laughter, camaraderie and bonding. Yes, we put massive miles on old bikes that break down, however break downs become adventures. Adventures become stories. Stories become myths. Myths become legends. Legends become history, and a good story is told by all.

One of my favorite Disney movies is “The Emperor’s New Groove”, which I enjoy for one scene in particular. Kuzco and Pacha, the two main characters are tied to a log ?oating down the middle of a raging river which suddenly turns calm. Pacha then hears the far off roar of rapids and quietly mumbles, “Uh-oh.” “Don’t tell me, we are about to go over a huge waterfall.” says Kuzco stoically. “Yep” says Pacha calmly. “Sharp rocks at the bottom?” “Most likely.” “Bring it on.” That’s the attitude! Bring it on indeed.

 

To keep with the theme of the trip, when we got to motel in Vernon, Todd dove in the pool and immediately hurt his head on the bottom. Please ignore the person ?oating face down in the pool. Nothing to see here…

 

Bring on your 25 year old sport bikes. Hand me your motorcycle with rear brake pads thinner than a feeler gauge. Tour on your 22 year old CBR with intermittent fuel delivery. Put the spurs to your totaled VFR with fairings held on by super glue, duct tape and zip ties. Grab a dozen fuses for your ST with electrical gremlins. Flog your Zombie Ninja until your face shield ?ies off. No, until the exhaust ?ies off. Give me your tired, your poor, your aging sport bikes yearning to breathe free and break down, the wretched refuse of your teeming craigslist adds. Send these, those down on compression, tempest-tossed, to me. Imbibe the euphoria as they once again back?re their ?ery dragons breath. I lift my Leatherman, duct tape, safety wire and zip ties beside the golden door, for said bikes shall achieve their previous glory once again turning gasoline into noise and speed and sacri?ce their ?nal crankshaft rotation at the altar of legend. Let them bring about roadside naps. Beat on them until their exhaust pinwheels into marvelous history. Damn the photon torpedoes and warp speed ahead, riding them hard, harder, harder yet until they ?y apart.

Accept the challenge. Bring it on. Then crack open a beer and tell the story, because it’s going to be epic…

–Ted

 

Three generations of riders: my son Matt (far left), my father Don (middle) and I in the streets of Nelson BC. This was not our ?rst (mis)adventure together, and de?nitely not our last.

 

BikeBandit Guest Blogger Series: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

 

 

ACCEPT THE CHALLENGES SO THAT YOU CAN FEEL THE EXHILARATION OF VICTORY

– George S. Patton

 

Yvon Chouinard, the dirtbag climber, mountaineer and founder of Patagonia outerwear is famously quoted as saying, “It is not an adventure until something goes wrong.” The same truth applies to motorcycling and for us, the adventure started before we left our hometown of Wenatchee, Washington.

For some random reason, instead of meeting at a gas station or someone’s house to congregate before our annual Canadian tour, we decided to meet at the local motorcycle shop where Todd Shitlett, longtime powersports mechanic (a.k.a. The Carb Whisperer) was a former employee. My father Don on his ST1300, my son Matt on his 1991 VFR750 and me on my 1998 VFR800 pulled into Doghouse Motorsports. Good thing. Trevor Alexander, Todd’s brother-in-law decided it was time for new rear brake pads for his 2006 VFR800.

 

Congratulations Chris, on your record-setting win your first time out at Pikes Peak!

 

This would normally be something easy to ride around on a sportbike, but with the VFR’s linked brakes, using the front brake only technique was not an option. Todd simply rolled the VFR to the parking spot nearest the garage bay and got to work replacing the wafer thin pads. As Todd ?nished, I took a humorous glance at my rear brake pads before donning my helmet. I should never have looked. I needed rear brake pads too and mine were thinner than Trevor’s. However, I am grateful that rear brake pads were the only thing amiss.

The bike was totaled just 1 month before, I had only assembled the bike the day before we left and it had not even been test ridden after re-assembly. Some parts of the bike were literally held together by superglue, but that is another story for another time. Todd just sighed. So the adventure began. All I can say is thank goodness for center stands, single sided swing arms and Todd Shi?ett. The Carb Whisperer had them changed in NASCAR-like pit stop ef?ciency and we were ?nally read to leave. What else could go wrong?

The ride from Wenatchee to Wilbur is ?at farmland and we used it to make up for lost time, using none of our new brakes whatsoever. Turns out this was a good thing since, due to a wiring issue, every time my dad hit his brakes, a fuse blew taking out his driving lights and dash, which meant no electronic speedometer. This explained why his saddlebag contained about two dozen 15 amp mini-fuses. Ironically, the oldest bike on the trip was having no issues whatsoever. My son Matt had outgrown his old Ninja 500 and was loving his ?rst tour on a bulletproof 1991 VFR750. It was much more reliable than his old Ninja 500 which we resurrected from near-dead, earning it the nickname The Zombie Ninja. That bike had a well earned reputation for spontaneously ejecting things as he rode. Exhausts mainly. Sometimes a face shield. Often gasoline.

After riding north along Seven Bays road, then east to Usk, we turned south away from the Canadian border to ride Flowery Trail Road. Flowery Trail Road is the main route to a local ski area, and is as twisty and wooded as you like. Here, we ?nally used our brakes. Thoroughly. The relentlessly thick evergreen forest echoed back our baf?e-free exhausts in every direction, which is likely why Washington’s ?nest heard us coming a long way off. At the end of the road, the trooper simply sat at a side road watching us approach and he showed no interest in pulling out. It had the intended effect, and we all breathed a sigh of relief, especially my dad who had unfortunately used his brakes meaning he had blown out his dash and truly had no clue how fast he was going. I’m sure state troopers hear that all the time.

We rode north and that night found our usual digs at the Adventure Hotel in Nelson, BC. After stuf?ng ourselves with prime rib, beer, and tales of how the trip was already developing its own morbid personality, we rested for the next day. Good thing. The next morning we rode north to Kaslo and visited the farmer’s market where I get the same peach danish from the same local baker every year, kind of my pastry good luck charm. Todd didn’t get one, which was a bad move.

The road from Kaslo to New Denver along Canadian Highway 31A must have been designed by an engineer who rode motorcycles. If there is a straight stretch in the road’s 28 miles, I have yet to ?nd it, which makes passing near impossible. We had a few miles of clear highway, but quickly caught up to the trio of cars in front that were in no hurry to go anywhere. I could literally feel the pain from riding so slowly. Nothing on this trip was going right.

After a full decade on 31A, we ?nally made it to New Denver and gassed up. Then things got even more interesting. While exiting New Denver, Todd’s classic 1993 CBR900RR decided it was nap time, and quit running to take a roadside nap. Like a good dad, Todd decided to push this classic Honda uphill to a paved pullout for a better sleeping spot. We all watched Todd push uphill for about a full minute or ?ve before we decided that he had gotten enough of a hamstring and glute workout and helped him push the bike the rest of the way. We further assisted Todd by peeing on the side of the road and staring off into the distance, admiring the peerless Canadian mountain range.

The Carb Whisperer checked everything in his power, but could not nail down the malady. Mysteriously, the bike restarted after 10 minutes of siesta time, and we plowed on to Nakusp. Shortly after leaving Nakusp, Todd’s bike decides it’s nap time once again. We again help by urinating publicly and generally mucking about. This is what true adventurers do. The CBR again restarted after a 10 minute nap and off we rode. At least we had the golden road, highway 6 into Vernon ahead. Maybe we could salvage at least that part of the ride.

As we got off the ferry crossing that signals the beginning of highway 6 and ?nally lit the wicks on our aging sportbikes, the largest cow in recorded human history decided to take up residence in the middle of the road and not move. He was the proverbial immovable object. What’s going on here? This is the most bizarre trip ever. We rode by gingerly and only got a few miles of clean road before “she” came along. “She” was a young female with a pink and white leather jacket on a white CBR600 and she rode by us all like we were riding Trail 90s. Todd let her get a good lead and I immediately knew what he was doing. I saw his toe tap the shift lever twice, the clutch dropped on his CBR and off he shot in a blur, with my 17 year old son on his VFR chasing him. I screamed “Bad uncle!” in my helmet for Todd setting a bad example for my son and decided to set a good example by not giving chase. Instead, I scanned the road for exit marks and bike parts. None were found, thank God.

When we regroup at Vernon, I hotly scold The Carb Whisper who Matt now thinks is the coolest uncle in the world. That’s when it struck me that all of these mishaps, breakdowns and misadventures were not a bad thing, they were necessary. In essence, on a ride where everything goes as planned, adventure and story telling grind to a halt. Maladies are mandatory for a proper adventure.

Imagine asking Todd about his ride had everything gone perfectly. “Tell me about your ride.” “Best roads in North America, great food, perfect weather. Had a good time.” Boring. No one wants to hear that. In true adventure something goes wrong and gives us an obstacle to overcome, a challenge to accept, maybe even a rescue from danger. These are the origins of a good story, and good story telling. This is how it needs to be. The story really goes like this… “Hey Todd, tell me about your ride.” “Holy $#*&! We couldn’t even get out of the stupid parking lot. First, I track down a set of stock pads for Trevors’ bike and swap them out in the parking lot. No problem right? Then Ted gets a far off look in his eye and sprints back to his bike. Now he needs new pads too. Except the shop doesn’t have any, so I ?nd a similar pair and have to go to the grinder and create a notch so they ?t. Then Don keeps blowing fuses, my bike takes a crap on me…” And so on.

What comes next is a glorious story telling blended with a mixture of near misses with Washington’s ?nest, roadside cows, female sport bikers and pool injuries. As the story gets told, more beer gets drank accompanied by laughter, camaraderie and bonding. Yes, we put massive miles on old bikes that break down, however break downs become adventures. Adventures become stories. Stories become myths. Myths become legends. Legends become history, and a good story is told by all.

One of my favorite Disney movies is “The Emperor’s New Groove”, which I enjoy for one scene in particular. Kuzco and Pacha, the two main characters are tied to a log ?oating down the middle of a raging river which suddenly turns calm. Pacha then hears the far off roar of rapids and quietly mumbles, “Uh-oh.” “Don’t tell me, we are about to go over a huge waterfall.” says Kuzco stoically. “Yep” says Pacha calmly. “Sharp rocks at the bottom?” “Most likely.” “Bring it on.” That’s the attitude! Bring it on indeed.

Bring on your 25 year old sport bikes. Hand me your motorcycle with rear brake pads thinner than a feeler gauge. Tour on your 22 year old CBR with intermittent fuel delivery. Put the spurs to your totaled VFR with fairings held on by super glue, duct tape and zip ties. Grab a dozen fuses for your ST with electrical gremlins. Flog your Zombie Ninja until your face shield ?ies off. No, until the exhaust ?ies off. Give me your tired, your poor, your aging sport bikes yearning to breathe free and break down, the wretched refuse of your teeming craigslist adds. Send these, those down on compression, tempest-tossed, to me. Imbibe the euphoria as they once again back?re their ?ery dragons breath. I lift my Leatherman, duct tape, safety wire and zip ties beside the golden door, for said bikes shall achieve their previous glory once again turning gasoline into noise and speed and sacri?ce their ?nal crankshaft rotation at the altar of legend. Let them bring about roadside naps. Beat on them until their exhaust pinwheels into marvelous history. Damn the photon torpedoes and warp speed ahead, riding them hard, harder, harder yet until they ?y apart.

Accept the challenge. Bring it on. Then crack open a beer and tell the story, because it’s going to be epic…

–Ted

BikeBandit Guest Blogger Series: The Observer Effect

 

 

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that we’ve been reaching out for guest bloggers to share your adventures with our fans. Ted from Wenatchee, WA wanted to share his story about a great ride he enjoyed with some of his closest family and friends as they ventured north of the border in to Canada, so sit back and enjoy. If you’d like to join our team of guest bloggers and want to share some of your adventures, contact us at [email protected].

 

The Observer Effect declares that the measurement of certain things cannot be made without affecting the object being measured. In other words, the attempt to observe or accurately measure an object changes that object’s measurements. Putting a caliper on it? You’ve changed it. All motorcyclists are unknowingly intimate with this principle. If you have doubts, here is proof.

Pretend you are having a “spirited” ride on a glorious road, like Idaho’s infamous Lolo Pass. You know you are speeding, the state patrol knows you are speeding, everyone on the planet knows you are speeding. However, as soon as that of?cer attempts to measure your speed by drawing his radar gun, your speed changes. The very act of him attempting to measure your speed has changed your speed. The Observer Effect. The observer, in this case the police, know this as well. So when they stop you, they let you off with a warning and say “I caught you slowing down, didn’t I?” However, Idaho’s finest don’t usually let bikers off so easily. Don’t ask me how I know.

So it was with this attempt to chronicle our trip from our hometown of Wenatchee, Washington to Nelson, Canada. My son Matt, my father Don, step-brother Todd (a.k.a. The Carb Whisperer), my cousin Dave and his son Garrick and I all rallied for a 3 day, 900 mile assault on the best roads anywhere.

The night before departure, four bikes sat in nervous anticipation in the garage the like twitchy racehorses awaiting their jockeys. Even not saddled up, we were already having a good time bench racing in the garage. Dave and I ogled our matched pair of 1998 Honda VFRs ?anked by Matt’s 1991 Honda VFR and Garrick’s Suzuki GSXR-600, all of them blood red and different ?avors of touring sport bikes. Nobody genuinely needs a machine with power to weight ratio of 4 pounds per horsepower, but I do love it so when they ?ll my garage. We started the bikes randomly to compare exhaust notes, derailing my wife’s vain attempts at sleep. However, when she left for work the next morning, even she demanded a photo of the spectacle.

That morning, we planned to leave early. Yet, leaving later than planned has morphed into a tradition. A misplaced passport, a forgotten driver’s license and a scavenger hunt for a birth certi?cate later, we thumbed starter buttons and followed the mighty Columbia north on highway 97. Crisp September morning air pushed aside the sweltering heat of summer and announced the arrival of the year’s best riding weather. I could smell the green of the orchards that bordered both sides of the road through my helmet and knew this would be a special trip.

 

Garrick soaks up some morning sun in the cold temps while someone who shall remain nameless searches for documentation to enter Canada.

 

After ?lling our bellies with lunch (it was supposed to be breakfast), we pounded slab north to Tonasket and turned east on Havillah road, which used to be a ?at, peacefully meandering farm road until someone ruined it with chip seal. I determined that whomever invented chip seal should be ?ogged in the public square by the demon ghost of Giovanni Pirelli with a Supercorsa SP racing slick.

We detoured west, then north to the town of Molson, where a cow temporarily blockaded the road. She attempted to make a break for the fence, but promptly face planted on the asphalt. Every one of her subsequent failed attempts to ?ee from my booming V-four exhaust note and back into the safety of her pasture made her increasingly agitated. My plan, in case she decided that the red bodywork on my VFR too much resembled a matador’s cape, was to hit the kill switch, run like hell and leap over the barbed wire fence to where the stupid cow should have been in the ?rst place. Luckily, she went ?rst, charging head ?rst through the barbed wire, successfully reentering the pen and ruining someone’s perfectly good future leather jacket.

Molson is a small town, population none. Evidently, the Molson family was guzzling too much of their own brew when they accidentally built this town 3 miles too far south to be in Canada. Major beer foul. Presently, the Molson Ghost Town is an outdoor museum of antique tractors and farm implements stored in three sided sheds, all rusted red by Mother Nature and father time. It is a slowly decaying testament to the rugged history of the early 20th century. I like to walk behind the bank teller’s counter and attempt to open the bank safe. I haven’t opened it yet. One day…

 

The bell at Molson still functions perfectly. Too bad there is no one around to hear it.

 

We backtracked and crossed into Canada at the Midway border crossing, then joined highway 3 east to Nelson and the Adventure Hotel. I am mad for the Adventure hotel because it has a motorcycle wash station, a Triumph Thunderbird in the middle of the bar and an all you can eat buffet staring prime rib from very relaxed Canadian cows that actually stay in their pens. At dinner, we toasted what would normally have been a red letter day for any motorcyclist. For us though, this was just the opening act. We knew what tomorrow would bring.

The next morning my dad and I rose early and walked the main street perusing a local car show, met the rest of the late sleepers for our ceremonial Kiwanis club pancake feed, then mounted our bikes to head north to Kaslo. There, we pulled up to the farmer’s market, parking a small distance away from the outdoor concert so our combined 24 cylinders and 600 horsepower exhaling through barely muf?ed exhausts didn’t horrify the public. Kaslo sits at the foundation of famous highway 31A and is like pit lane to the racetrack of motorcycle heaven. Yet even in this sleepy, motorcycle saturated hamlet, our bikes captivated. Five red sportbikes parked parallel looked like racetrack refugees, magnets for photographers and onlookers. A wife gawked at the spectacle and said to her husband, “Look at all of the pretty red motorcycles.” However, he was unable to speak with his mouth agape, chin permanently planted on his chest.

 

Our VFR party invades Kaslo. No doubt the youngsters had these pics posted on InstaFaceTwitterTube immediately.

 

As captivating as Kaslo was, I couldn’t wait to leave. Highway 31A leaving Kaslo starts with a fast sweeper leaving town, and the smooth, fast sweepers bordering the river don’t end until 28 miles later in New Denver. Early on, Garrick took over the lead and disappeared, while Todd and Matt paced Dave, Don and I in a perfect symphony of V-four exhaust notes. This is the best engine sound in all of motorcycling. If you don’t love the sound of this engine, you simply don’t like engines. The piston powered symphony that echoed off the rock walls as we darted through the canyon in perfect spacing and speed seared itself in my memory. A fellow VFR rider parked by the side of the road watched us roar by and I am certain his goosebumps were as big as mine.

 

Matt and Todd prepare to leave pit lane in Kaslo. Gentlemen, start your V-fours.

 

Yet, as mythical as 31A is, highway 6 to Vernon is better. It is the best road I have ridden in my life, and one of the best roads in North America that few know exists, until now at least. The road’s best feature, ironically, is the ferry. It allows travel only every 30-minutes, so with a few key passes on the two long straights leaving the ferry, you can have the road all to yourself.

 

“I am oldest, so I am getting off this ferry ?rst.”, my dad says. It didn’t matter, Matt soon passed everybody.

 

Two hairpins at the end of the long straights warmed up the edges of our tires while a slight uphill climb introduced much needed chill. I was last in the horsepower parade behind Garrick, Matt and Todd when the road suddenly darted into the mountain side. Game on. I tapped down twice on the gear lever and dropped the clutch. It was time to quit looking at the speedo and time to use the bar tingles as my tach. Tight, snaking switchbacks came in such relentless succession I forced myself to breathe, relax, then pin the throttle for 1.5 seconds and then brake like hell, then repeat over and over, and over. Linked sweepers with perfect pavement meant putting our bikes and bodies through a workout. I am sure the scenery was beautiful. I will have to look at it sometime.

We pulled into the Tiki Motor Inn, which is a funky as it sounds, and walked to the Chinese buffet for dinner. Sitting around the table, we dined and toasted like kings. I suppose the moment could have been better, I just can’t fathom how. The next morning as we fueled up, we watched Garrick’s GSX-R reject gasoline as an energy source, deciding instead to vomit it all over the pavement. Todd slowly shook his head and solemnly stated, “I would not ride that bike,” Like the ancient EF Hutton commercials, when The Carb Whisperer talks, people listen. Not Garrick. He ignores The Carb Whisperer and rides on despite the ominous warning.

As Matt and I arrived at home and enjoyed not speeding along for the ?rst time in 3 days, Matt looked tiredly into the distance and said, “Dad, I know we just did 900 miles, but I want to get back on the bike and do it all again.” Amen brother. My soul knows its proper place outside of heaven, and that is with my biker family. These events have to be lived to be understood and any attempt to pour this experience through the ?lter of words gives an outsider a diluted taste of the event’s true nature. The Observer Effect in action. Yet as bikers, we must continue in vain to attempt to put something that de?es description into words. After all, what else would we talk about?

We turn gasoline into noise, speed and storytelling, and the lore we share is as much about the people, personalities, scenery as it is about the bikes. Without motorcycles, we would rarely get together, and when we did, we would have meaningless conversations about boring stuff like our failing bodies, the weather and who we should vote for. But introduce a motorcycle into the equation and suddenly we are slapping each other on the back talking about how truly life threatening cows are, plotting our revenge on the inventor of chip seal, and how majestic the Canadian landscape could be if it wasn’t always passing by at insane speeds.

 

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this explains why we ride. None of us have ever questioned why we ride. For us, riding is as natural as breathing. And we can’t quit either.

 

As the stories get told and embellished they become more. They morph into folklore, then history. Trying to describe it to the non-biker is pointless because The Observer Effect takes over. We try, but we know we can’t put it into words. We give up and simply say, “You just had to be there.” So ride every chance you get. Ride at sunrise greeted by empty roads and the chill of the morning. Ride at night to nowhere in particular with the only thought in your mind the thrill of the act. Preferably, ride with others for many days and over long distances to other cities, states or countries. Just don’t attempt to explain it the non-biker. They won’t understand.

 

–Ted

BikeBandit Guest Blogger Series: When Going Wrong Goes Right

 

 

If everything goes right, we get a good experience. If everything goes wrong, we get a good story. — Simon Sinek

 

It was Sunday, July 9th and my goal was to get the lanky, stoic German head of security for World Superbike to laugh. “Yah, I am restoring a 200 year old farm house between Stuttgart and Salzburg,” Hans said to me in his heavy German accent. “But now, I has got it torn down to timbah, notzing more.” “Yep,” I say, “You sound like me. Great at demolition, not so good at rebuilding.” “Yah!, Yah!”, he laughs. Mission accomplished. I was doing a stellar job at distracting him from my nervousness because if he knew I was just an impostor with a security vest and a whistle around my neck he would have thrown me out on my head. I had no training, no experience and not the faintest clue what I was doing in pit lane at Laguna Seca.

It was Monday, July 3rd and I could not sleep. I was intoxicated with the idea of fulfilling my long standing dream of riding my motorcycle down to Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway in Salinas, California, camping at the track, then riding north up the California coastline on the return trip. Everything about the trip checked boxes off my motorcycle bucket list: camp at the track, ride my bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, tour the California coastline along Highway 1, see the Redwood Forests and explore Crater Lake. This year, I finally decided to pull the trigger and go. Once my route and timetable were planned out, they morphed into a 10 day trip. A lot can go wrong on a trip that size, and most did which, as it turned out, was the best part.

Tuesday, July 4th was my departure date. The night before leaving, my apprehension kept me awake most of the night mentally going over my packing list. Tent and sleeping bag? Check. Camp stove and food? Check. Tire repair kit and inflator? Check. My 1998 Honda VFR 800 was so fully loaded with camping equipment, gear and food that once on the center stand, it perched on the rear wheel instead of the front. To beat the July heat, I got a 7:00 am start out of Wenatchee, Washington. As I mounted my steed in the driveway, my wife spoke some sarcastic good luck wishes into my helmet, “If you crash, either come out of it without a scratch, or just die. I don’t want to take care of a vegetable.” That’s not a jinx at all.

The plan was to do heavy mileage for two days on the way down to Laguna Seca, then take my time and do some sightseeing on the return trip. So the route Tuesday was basic and boring; follow Highway 97 from Wenatchee to Klamath Falls, a 450 mile day, and stay at nearby Hagelstein County Park. Highway 97 is lovely from Blewett Pass to Goldendale, but once in Oregon, especially south of Bend, it became so flat, straight and hot that it took a lot of self-control not to pin the throttle, wake up the VFR’s growly V-four and make it all disappear behind me.

I pulled into Hagelstein County Park near Klamath Falls, Oregon, which had the advantage of not only being right off the highway, but also free and first come, first serve. Unfortunately, it was as pretty as a free campground next to a major highway could have been, which is to say, not at all. I discovered a vacant camp spot under a tree next to the pond, only to realize later why no one had taken it. After I pulled in and started to unpack, I saw the windowless, brown Dodge van with attached horse trailer parked nearby. The doors were open and it was immediately evident that it was not just a van, it was someone’s home.

That someone came out to greet me right away, and the first thing I noticed was his dress. Yes, you read that right, his dress. Well, and his massive cleavage. He was in his mid-60 with a ring of grey hair around his tan, bald head that made its way into a shoulder blade length ponytail. He had been a male at one point, but now had two big breasts that were barely contained by his pink, knee length dress. He (she?) approached me, noticed the bike and asked where I was from.

Motorcycles are great conversation starters, especially when they are dirty, have an out-of-state license plate and are loaded with camping gear. However, right then, I was wishing I could have slipped into the murky pond next to the bike and held my breath for, say, the rest of the night. “I am from Washington,” I said politely. “Hi, my name is Ted,” and I stuck out my hand to shake. I did it out of reflex and immediately regretted it. “Hi,” he said, “my name is Cindy.” Of course it was. The first thing I noticed when he shook my hand was that his hands were as massive as his breasts, which I believe is an anatomical thing. The second was that his long fingernails had trapped a lot of grease under them. At least he could have painted them.

 

All of the camping gear and food packed far back on the bike make first gear power wheelies a piece of cake, but not recommended. Still, the best conversation starter ever.

 

Cindy, starving for company, proceeded to talk at me as I set up camp, swam and then fixed myself dinner. The whole time I was thinking to myself that most people have relatively predictable 4th of July holidays filled with family, friends, barbecues and fireworks. Mine was spent camping in the dirt near a highway as Cindy talked at me for 2 hours. Nonstop. I timed it.

Cindy informed me that he had been on the road for 30 years. In other words, homeless. Since Cindy was still talking my ear off, I decided to try to make the most out of it and inquired about the best route through San Francisco to the Monterey peninsula. I grabbed one of my maps and he gave me some incredibly helpful and specific advice about navigating traffic through the urban jungle of California freeways surrounding the city by the bay. Eventually, I began to appreciate Cindy’s helpful demeanor, knowledge of California freeways and his willingness to share. It turns out that this freakish encounter was a good thing after all. This started a theme that would continue for the next 10 days; when my trip was seemingly going wrong, it really was going better than I could have hoped for.

Wednesday, July 5th meant another 450 mile day, spending most of it in bloody hot central California. The high for Redding that day was forecast to exceed 100 degrees, so that morning, I stirred at 4:30 and was on the road by 5:00. This also had the added benefit that I was gone by the time that Cindy woke up. I am no dummy.

I navigated Highway 97 and passed post-card pretty Mt. Shasta, with its 14,162 foot peak painted sunrise pink. The mountain pass getting there was over 5,100 feet and the VFR’s temperature gauge read a wintry 42 degrees. In my full mesh gear, I was cold to the core. I shivered so convulsively that it was hard to grip the bars and keep the bike in line. Although initially this chill seemed like a pain, it was in line with the newfound theme for the trip, that when thing are going wrong, they are actually turning out to be better than expected.

 

I stopped to pose for a selfie with Mt. Shasta. I was shivering so badly I am shocked the photo was not blurry.

 

Highway 97 turns into I-5 which is temporarily twisty, but then becomes Bonneville Salt Flat straight, hot and boring. My earlier morning chill was a godsend since it allowed me to use the next two hours to soak up the heat and bring my temperature up to human again. The welcome heat was the only reason I didn’t up my speed and make the scenery go away.

Following Cindy’s advice from the previous day, I hugged peripheral highways around San Francisco and made it to Seaside, California by 2:00, not bad time for a 450 mile day. After dinner and a walk I turned in early since I was only 8 miles from the entrance gate to Laguna Seca. The gates opened at 7:00 and I didn’t want to be late.

Up early Thursday morning, I could not reign in my excitement and arrived at the Laguna Seca entrance gate 15 minutes before it’s 7:00 am opening, another misstep that would become a positive in a big way, I just didn’t know it yet. I pulled into the track entrance and saw what I thought was a line waiting to get in, fell into the queue and parked behind a massive toy hauler pulled by a muscular truck. Then, a track official with a headset and “Assistant Director” on his baby blue shirt approached me quickly. Uh-oh, what’s going wrong this time?

“This is not a line!” he barked at me authoritatively.

“I am sorry, this is my first time here and I have no clue what I am doing.” Sometimes I enjoy stating the obvious.

“There is no one here to take your ticket,” he barked again. By now, the owner of the truck, entertained by the spectacle, had come to watch me get my butt chewed. It must have been quite a show.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Ah, just go on through.” he says

“Are you sure? I have my tickets and camping pass with me, do you want to see them?”

“Nah, just go.”

I quickly left before he could change his mind. After wandering aimlessly around the track for about 20 minutes, I finally stumbled upon general camping. It seems that the phrase “general camping” is Laguna Seca terminology for “Find any spot on this giant ant hill and camp wherever you want.” So I did. Well, at least I tried.

My first attempt at staking a claim was too close to other campers, so I tried a second spot and moved farther back on the hill. This spot turned out to not have a view of the track. My third and final attempt was on the peak of the hill next to an access road with an RV on the right, lots of room on the left, a perfect view of the whole track and close proximity to the showers and bathroom. Perfect.

Then, a man in a headset and “Assistant Director” on his baby blue shirt barked at me and said, “Hey, you are going to have to move your tent,” It was the same man I had the confrontation with at the gate entrance. Of all the people to piss off. Again. “Ummm, sure. I guess.” I said, reluctant to give up my prime camping spot. However, I was even more reluctant to push my luck with this seemingly important track employee. When someone with an official looking shirt, a headset and a swagger tells you to move your stuff at Laguna Seca, you just do it.

Then I spotted the same massive toy hauler I saw at the gate entrance and I finally understood. He needed me to move my tent for this wheeled colossal beast. I made room and slid my insignificant, one man tent over. With the massive toy hauler parked to my left and the other RV to the right, I could only see a narrow section of the track. I swore in my head. I ripped off a pair of 500 miles days to get down here to get treated like this? However, I consoled myself and thought, “How can I complain? I am camping at Laguna Seca. There is nowhere else I would rather be.” As it turned out, moving my tiny tent for the Goliath of travel trailers was the best thing I ever did.

Again, nothing starts a conversation like a motorcycle laden with travel gear and my new neighbor was not exempt.

“Where are you from?” he asks.

“Washington State,” I reply.

“Oh, I have a house in Belfair,” he says.

After traveling to the Olympic Peninsula many times to beat the eastern Washington heat, I knew the location of Belfair on Hood Canal. We talked Washington roads for a while before he offered me a camping chair to sit in, which I didn’t refuse. It was the only item I could not lash down on the bike without looking like a sportbike version of the Beverly Hillbillies. Besides, I was still slightly ticked off and figured I had earned it. We chatted on, him in his mansion trailer and me in a lawn chair in the dirt next to my solo camping tent.

His name was Hutch Collier and he is biker by every definition. In his mid-60s with a short stubble military haircut, a sharp mind and hearty laugh, we clicked immediately. Over the next hour, this affable Vietnam veteran talked of dirt tracking, Colorado tours in June and doing a 26 day, four corners tour of the country. He has a palatable passion for motorcycling and we talked bikes, roads and the motorcycle lifestyle while his nephew Joey, who was staying in the trailer with him, listened in.

The tipping point came when he got his cell phone, flashed me a picture and asked,

“Say, can you tell me what motorcycle this is?” I recognized it immediately, but my aging brain took some time to recall the name.

After half a minute it hit me. “Yep, I recognize that. That’s a Gurney Alligator.”

 

This is a Gurney Alligator in action. Memorize it, you will be quizzed later by random people in a racetrack campground.

 

The late Dan Gurney, accomplished engineer and racer, was a pioneer in many fields. At the 1968 German Grand Prix, he introduced the first race use of a full face helmet. He also developed a right angle flap at the top of a rear wing on his racing car to increase down force, now called the Gurney flap. However, most importantly, after winning the 1967 24 Hours of LeMans in a Ford GT40 with A.J. Foyt, he introduced his most important contribution to the racing world: the spraying of champagne at the podium. Life changing stuff.

His motorcycle was just as innovative. Dan Gurney, all 6’6” of him, decided that motorcycles put the rider in a position that was too high and too far forward, so he made one much lower with forward foot controls, but by no means a cruiser. The fact that I recognized Dan Gurney’s radical bike seemed to impress Hutch and he invited me into his Taj-Ma-Hal trailer where we drank beer and talked everything from bikes to guns to our common love of being first responders.

Later that night, his son Matt sauntered in. It was the same guy with “Assistant Director” on his baby blue shirt and headset that I managed to piss of twice that day. Now I get it. Matt was waiting at the gate for his dad when I rolled up on the two of them. Also Matt got Hutch a prime camping spot, the same one I had staked out. No wonder he was barking at me.

 

Beer in hand, sunsetting on the corkscrew of Laguna Seca and plenty of bench racing while I document the adventure on my device. Does life get any better?

 

Matt was tall, tan with dark hair and an intensity that went into every word of every sentence. He bared a passing resemblance to Baja 1000 champion Johnny Campbell, if Johnny Campbell put on a few pounds and used the “F” word at least three times in every sentence. Matt was hot sweaty and dusty from the day, so he, Hutch and I started to polish off beers when Hutch mentioned that he needed a parking pass for his wife who was arriving Friday night. “Here Hutch, take mine.” I said. After all, I still had mine since no one collected it at the entrance.

Matt immediately snatched it from my hand.

“Where did you (bleeping) get this?” he says, with an F-bomb sprinkled in for good measure. Right then I wondered how many times I could piss him off in one day. Is it possible to mess up more in this man’s eyes?

“I got it mailed to me when I bought my tickets.” I said with no F-bombs whatsoever.

“Do you know what the (bleep) this is?” he barks.

“Uh, it says support vehicle on it. I assumed that it was for a car if I trailered the bike down,” I said sheepishly. “Dude, this is for (bleeping) support vehicles. Like, you could go any (bleeping) where with this (bleep). Again, how the (bleep) did you get this?” he demands.

“Uh, it was mailed to me.”

“(Bleep) dude. You could (bleeping) drive on the (bleeping) racetrack as race support with this (bleeping) thing.”

Matt continued with the bleep-fest parade while I transitioned from timid answers to being wildly entertained by Matt. His tirade continued while Hutch, Joey and I laughed until we needed even more beer.

Eventually, Matt cooled off and started to complain (no surprise to me anymore) about his go-kart racing track in the infield of Laguna Seca. Evidently, the go-kart batteries needed some attention, tires need swapping and such. Only he said it in much more expletive terms. Feeling sympathy for Matt, Hutch and I agreed to help him out in the morning.

Friday morning, Hutch and I walked down to the go-kart track to lend a hand. I saw a go-kart with a cut in its right front tire and did a NASCSAR quick tire swap and Matt instructed me to go test it out on the track. Scrub in go-kart tires? I’m your man. And I did, for about the next 30 minutes non-stop. I considered it my personal mission to hot lap every single go-kart at Laguna Seca’s infield and make sure they were working properly. I literally jumped out of one kart and right into the next one while Hutch’s nephew Joey joined me and we raced around playing bump-to-pass. Well, at least I played bump-to-pass. Or maybe just bump.

That night, after the go-kart session and World Superbike and MotoAmerica practices, we cracked open more beers in the trailer and swapped more biking stories with a sunset view of the world famous corkscrew. Life could have gotten better than that, but I am not sure how.

Predictably, my ethereal moment was ruptured when Matt walked in, sweaty, dirty and tan from a day in the sun and spontaneously began complaining. I liked this routine. Matt’s tirades were becoming very entertaining. Today, his issue was that there was no one to ride as VIPs in the pace cars since there was room for passengers but no one was there to ride shotgun as the cars cleared the track. This, to me, sounded like an issue that needed to be dealt with immediately and Matt asked if Hutch and I wanted to ride in the pace cars. I could not say yes fast enough.

 

Aprillia pilots Eugene Laverty and Lorenzo Salvadori pose for a photo. An ex-MotoGP rider, Laverty has the best mustache in motorcycle racing, peirod.

 

Then, Hutch mentioned that he needed race tickets for his wife, who was soon to arrive.

“Here, take mine,” I said, “after all, no one collected mine at the entrance.” As I handed them over to Hutch, Matt peered at me through sweaty, squinty eyes,

“How much did you pay for those (bleeping) tickets?”

Uh oh, here we go again. I answered just so see Matt go ballistic, and go ballistic he does. “I paid $50 a night for camping and $95 for the race tickets,” I replied.

“What the (bleep)!? You (bleeping) paid what!?”

Dear readers of these write-ups: by now, you get the idea. Simply read Matt’s quotes and assume that every other word is a “sentence enhancer.” It would be just as accurate as my retelling. Enjoy. I know I did.

“Dude, are you telling me you paid to camp here and for tickets to get in? That’s so wrong. You just paid to get in here twice! I am so talking to someone about this. This is so, so wrong. I am not letting this one die. Who filled your order? What was their name? How did you pay for these? Did you do this over the phone?…” Bleep, bleep, bleepity bleep. Bleepfest continued for quite a while. I could not stop laughing, drinking beer, or egging Matt on. All three made me smile.

Saturday morning was race day, and Matt’s instructions for Hutch and I were to meet in the dog pound, the area where the track workers live during the races, at 10:30. We showed up and got further instructions to be in the pit area at 1:00. It turned out that we were not riding in pace cars, but actually working security in pit lane, which explained the security tank top and whistle I got handed. I like security vests and whistles. VIPs payed big bucks to walk down pit lane for 20 minutes and view the team garages. Part of my job would be to keep them in pit lane, off the racetrack, and then shoo them out so the race could begin. This was better than hot laps in a pace car.

Hans, the head of security for the World Superbike series (I have changed his name for this story, since he is a security conscious person) is German to say the least. He is so stoic, you can never tell if he is making a joke, or if he even has a sense of humor. At 6’3” with a very slender build, tight black jeans offsetting his white corporate Dorna shirt, spiky blond hair, a chiseled jaw and mirrored sunglasses, I considered it my personal mission to make him laugh by the end of the weekend. He informed me of my duties, “You herd zem outta zee pitz at 1:22.” You bet Hans, not a minute less.

I stood at the far entrance to pit lane and soaked up the history of what had occurred over the years on this piece of tarmac. Epic MotoGP battles, manic pit stops during grueling endurance races, hard fought victories and bitter defeats, all happened on this small patch concrete under my feet. I tried to recall the weird string of coincidences over the past few days that landed me at this world famous spot with an official security vest and a whistle around my neck, but first, the Kawasaki umbrella girls wanted their picture taken with me.

 

The umbrella girls for 2013 WSBK champion Tom Sykes and three time WSBK champion Jonathan Rea take a time out with me for a media photo. Why can’t all staff meetings be like this?

 

Hans nodded to me, snapping me out of my daze and I started at the end of pit lane with one end of a red rope and Hutch on the other end. We pulled it taught and herded the high rollers with VIP badges out of pit lane. A few people wanted to linger and I said the same thing to all of them. “I’m sorry sir/madam, we can’t start the race until you leave.” Then came my reality check: I am an impostor. I had no training, no meeting, no briefing on what to do and I was working security at a World Superbike race at Laguna Seca. Just last Tuesday morning I left Wenatchee, said goodbye to my wife and chocolate lab and hit the road, a vagabond traveler. Now, I was in pit lane of World Superbike at Laguna Seca herding VIPs speaking more languages than I could count out of the pits so “we” could start the race. This all happened because I showed up to the track too early, planted my tent in the wrong spot and could identify a Gurney Alligator.

After clearing the pits, I stood to hold a long piece of red rope to separate the foot traffic from the motorcycle traffic on the pit exit. On one side, umbrella girls, mechanics and tire technicians with tire warmers hustled by. On the other, racers idled out of pit lane to take to the track. I was so close I could hold out a hand and almost touch both at the same time. Once the opening ceremonies were over and the warm-up lap was completed, it was time for the race start. When the red lights went out, racers dropped the hammer on their sponsor laden missiles as the roar from the exhausts physically hurt my ears. I loved it so. Then, I learned that we were not done with our security detail.

Chaz Davies took the win and rode to the winner’s circle carrying a #69 flag in honor of the late, great Nicky Hayden and I took my red rope to the paddock to keep the public at bay so the riders could coast their bikes to the tech inspection area. I spread out my arms along with the rope to keep public behind me and used my whistle to warn people with their backs turned that a race bike was approaching. Among my thoughts, other than how crazy the track officials were for trusting me, was to not spit out my whistle as I blew it, since it would likely nail a racer in the face shield as they rode by. They were that close. Not only am I close enough to touch the bikes, I have to get my toes the heck out of the way. After the spectacle was over, Hutch and I made our way back to the mansion he called a trailer, cracked open more beers, had more laughs and agreed that it had been quite a day, to say the least.

 

“Move it people, we can’t start the race until you leave.” How could you blame them, I would not want to leave either.

 

Sunday, July 9th, was the last race day, and Hutch absorbed too much of the heat Saturday to do security detail a second time, so I decided to go it alone. No one had invited me or asked me to help this time, so I figured that if I walked up with an official looking shirt a swagger and a whistle, people would figure I knew what I was doing and let me in. It worked like a charm. I slid into the dog pound and made conversation with the real Laguna Seca staff, then walked to pit lane where I again met Hans. I asked him what he did when he was not traveling the world with the World Superbike races as head of security. He softened marginally and started to open up about restoring his beloved 200 year old farmhouse in Germany. We both joked about it like neighbors talking over a fence, and he finally broke down and laughed. Mission accomplished. “Move it people, we can’t start the race until you leave.” How could you blame them, I would not want to leave either.

I did the same pit lane detail as the day before and the wonderment had not worn off. The circus of mechanics, tire technicians, umbrella girls, girlfriends, reporters and shock and awe of a World Superbike start seen from spitting distance just reinforced that I had, by stroke of circumstance, had weaseled my way into an arena of motorcycling that is on another planet. All I had to do was show up to the track way too early and pitch my tent in the wrong spot. So continued the theme of this trip: when something seemed like it was going haywire, it was actually going better than planned.

Jonathan Rea dominated race 2, beating teammate Tom Sykes by almost 3 seconds. Again, I herded VIPs out of pit lane, helped shepherd racers to tech inspection, then turned to the victory podium and watched the victory champagne get sprayed. Thank you Dan Gurney. Afterwards, I made my way back to camp, lashed my camping gear to the bike, said my goodbyes to Hutch and hit the road. I had a camping spot in Golden Gate State Park 120 miles north and wanted to get there before dark. That went wrong too. It turns out that the Golden Gate Bridge is awe inspiring. The towers were so huge that I felt like I was riding my bike under the Space Needle. All of this distracted riding was why I missed my exit to my camp spot. Again, things were going wrong, but this time I had no idea how this could possibly turn out better than planned.

I decided not to backtrack. Instead, I pushed on to find camping accommodations up the road, somewhere soon I hoped. The sun was setting. Due to a detour, I rode the Panoramic Highway which was so narrow and winding that car side mirrors came uncomfortably close to my helmet on left hand corners. As I made my way up the coastline I was shocked that there were no places to camp. I rode farther and farther until right at dark I found a campground by the side of the road. I didn’t know where I was, but I knew that I had a place for the night, which was all that mattered. Riding winding roads at night with a tinted face shield in deer territory is how wives get dire late night phone calls from EMTs.

 

Two Teds and a Doug find each other on a random pullout along the California coast. What are the chances?

 

Monday morning, I packed my gear on my bike, left my unknown camp spot and got an early start. Highway 1 opened up before me like a postcard and it was everything I had dreamed about. The road hugged ragged cliffs that dropped directly down to the ocean. So breathtaking was the contrast of the Blue Ocean and brown cliffs, so intoxicating was scent of ocean mist that I pulled over to take a picture. When I did, two motorcycles saw me and pulled in next to me. I thought that they were stopping to see if I needed help. It turns out is was fellow Wenatchee hometown Mild Hogs Ted and Doug.

If we had tried to meet in that exact pullout at the same time, we could never have successfully planned it. It would have required e-mails, phone calls and texts aplenty to arrange such a meeting on a coastal highway pullout 800 miles from our hometown of Wenatchee. All I needed to do was miss my exit and find a random campground, then proceed as usual. This explained why missing my exit off the Golden Gate Bridge was a good thing. I began to question why I even made plans for this trip in the first place. None of the plans worked out, and everything happened better than I could have dreamed.

We rode together the rest of the day and Ted showed me one of my new favorite roads, Highway 1 into Legget. It is a tight, switchback road with some serious up and down elevation changes that made me uncontrollably giggle in my helmet. I never got the VFR out of 3rd gear because the curvy rollercoaster of pavement just kept coming at me relentlessly. For the grand finale at the bottom was the Chandelier Tree, a redwood tree so wide that you could drive a car though it, so a VFR with saddlebags fit easily.

 

I wish all trees did this when I approached them.

 

We completed the rest of the day riding together until I broke off to Eureka as Ted and Doug continued on to Crescent City. After riding from early in the morning until dinner two days in a row, I was exhausted. As I contemplated my plan for Tuesday, I remembered I had a big loop planned: out on Highway 36 and back on 299 then up to Crescent City for the night, almost 300 miles of winding road. I just couldn’t do it. I was road weary. It would have meant another full day in the saddle from early in the morning until dinner. Instead, I decided to just ride the 90 miles to Crescent City and take my time to sightsee instead.

Best decision ever. I saw a perfect one room schoolhouse, a whole herd of elk bedding down in a meadow and the tourist trap life size statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox. However, the highlight of the day was when I left Highway 101 to take Drury Scenic Parkway through the Redwood Forest. In all ways, the Redwood Forest commands your attention. The imposing trees block GPS signals, cell phone reception and the sun, asking you to pay attention to them and them only. Hearing a barely muffled V-four exhaust ricocheting off these giants and echoing everywhere around the forest gave me goosebumps. I pulled into Crescent City and noticed that the 90 mile journey had taken me 4 hours. Time well spent.

 

It’s a good thing you can’t smell this picture, it’s an appalling concoction of no laundry for a week, low tide and a sleeping bag that smells like a sweaty locker room, which explains why nobody can be seen anywhere close to my campsite in the photo.

 

As was the theme, my timing was amazing. The Battery Point lighthouse in Crescent City is accessible by walking, but only when the tide is out. I had timed the tide perfect and waltzed out to the lighthouse to explore the grounds and marvel at this fully functional antique. I made sure to make it back before the tide came in so as to not get stranded. That would be bad timing. Wednesday, I woke up knowing that I would go to Bend, Oregon for the night, but what I didn’t know where I would stay. At this point in my journey, I knew that fate’s plans for me would end up being much better than whatever I had planned, so I made no plans whatsoever. I simply rode and let fate have its way with me. That morning, I checked my phone and saw a text from the man who teaches math next door to me. He said he had a friend in Bend willing to let me pitch my tent in her yard for the night. Perfect!

Leaving Crescent City, I made my way to Crater Lake. Beautiful and deeply blue, Crater Lake is essentially a big volcanic divot filled with snowmelt. Since snowmelt and rainwater are it’s only sources of a refill, these pure water sources give it a deep blue hue and visibility up to 130 feet of it’s United States record depth of 1,949 feet. Considering the heat, I was seriously considering a swim until I realized that given its steep rocky sides, a trip down to swim would likely be a one-way affair.

I left Crater Lake and headed north, avoiding the heat by going around Mt. Bachelor to arrive in Bend where I immediately did what everyone in Bend does, find a brewery. I found one by accident (go figure), filled my growler with beer, which I had managed to squeeze onto the bike (priorities, you know) as payment to my gracious host Mikal. That friend of the math teacher next to me, she is a hiker, adventurer, and keenly understood how I was feeling on day nine of camping off the bike. She was kind enough to let me shower (or force me to) since I smelled like a Pacific Crest Trail hiker about two months in, and offered her RV as nightly accommodations. Considering I hadn’t had a roof over my head or air conditioning in over a week, I didn’t refuse. That night, we shared laughs and war stories from hikes and various adventures as we polished off the growler, then her stash of cider, then whatever else was lying around. I turned in at midnight.

 

So tempted to take a swim. It’s only snowmelt. How cold can it be? I’m sure the water is not that deep. What could possibly go wrong?

 

The next day, Thursday July 13th, I was ready to be home. I blitzed the 350 miles to Wenatchee by early that afternoon and pulled into my driveway, desperately in need of laundry and my own bed. I switched off the bike and just sat on it in the serenity of the driveway, decompressing from the whole experience of 10 days and over 2,000 miles camping off the motorcycle. In the silence, I was surprised at my first thought: would I turn around and do it all again tomorrow? Absolutely. In fact, I would do even less planning and let the winds of fate take me where they may, since their plans for me were far better than mine. If everything had gone as planned, it would have been a good ride. Instead, I had a great story.